FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Tom Brady has thrown touchdown passes to many receivers during his 18 NFL seasons. He’ll likely be adding new names to the list.
The Patriots receiving corps took a hit this offseason: the trade of Brandin Cooks to the Rams; the free-agency departure of Danny Amendola to Miami; and Julian Edelman’s suspension for the first four games for a drug-policy violation.
That leaves New England’s top returning wide receiver as Chris Hogan, who had 34 catches for 439 yards and five touchdowns in 2017.
It means there will be an opportunity for others. The candidates are a mix of familiar names of newcomers.
Hogan earned Brady’s trust the past two seasons and will certainly be a major part of the passing offense, along with All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. But it will also be a chance for the likes of Phillip Dorsett, Jordan Matthews and Kenny Britt to become factors in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system.
Dorsett said going through his first offseason program in New England has been big help.
“I’m just light years past where I was last year when it came to just knowing the playbook (and) knowing what to do,” said Dorsett, a 2015 first-round pick by the Colts, who was traded to New England for Jacoby Brissett just before the start of last season. “I feel comfortable at every position.”
And Dorsett seems to be a guy the coaching staff is looking to play multiple positions. He was lined up both in the slot and on the outside during spring drills.
The wild card in the discussion is third-year receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who spent all of 2017 on injured reserve with a knee injury. He missed the opening day of training camp Thursday. He was on the field Friday, though he joined the team only for warmups before heading to a separate field for rehabbing players.
Coach Bill Belichick declined to say whether Mitchell might be on the trade block this preseason, but his presence is a welcome sign for a player who showed lots of potential as a rookie in 2016.
Mitchell appeared in 14 games that season, hauling in 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns. He also had six catches for 70 yards in New England’s Super Bowl win over Atlanta.
Matthews has a similar injury history. He was plagued by knee and ankle issues the past two seasons before being signed by the Patriots to a one-year deal in April.
Meanwhile, Britt’s situation mirrors Dorsett’s, with Britt having just gone through his first spring in New England after signing in December and appearing in only three games last season.
Hogan is just two years removed from being a wide-eyed newcomer to the Patriots when he arrived in 2016. Now entering his third season in New England, Hogan said he wants to be the veteran presence that players like Edelman and Amendola were for him.
He likes the group and expects there to be tough decisions for the coaches to make by the end of camp.
“The competition brings out the best in people,” Hogan said. “It’s great that we have such a great room and a lot of guys that want to compete. … When we come out here, we’re not going through the motions.”
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